Saturday, 12 July 2014

007 Travelers interview: Taneli Topelius, Journalist and Film Critic

We all have our opinions about films and Bond films.
007 Travelers met Taneli Topelius, who is a film critic.

Who: Taneli Topelius, Journalist and Film Critic
WhereSanomatalo, Helsinki, Finland
When: 26 June 2014
007 connectionTaneli Topelius is a long-time fan of James Bond, and has been making "Bond 50 yearsspecial magazine of newspaper Ilta-Sanomat as well as "James Bond 50 years - 50 photographs" exhibition at Sanomatalo.


Your education and how long have you been as a film critic?
I studied film and television sciences, media research later, in the University of Turku. I have been a film critic for 20 years this spring. I started in 1994, which was my last spring in the high school, to write film criticism to Ilkka newspaper, where I worked from 1994 until 2001. I was also a summer reporter in Ilkka for four years, during the winters as a freelancer. In 2000, I had a summer job in newspaper Turun Sanomat, where I was a summer reporter and a freelancer and from 2003 to 2005, also a non-permanent reporter. Then I made film criticism to Turun Sanomat until 2012. I have been in Ilta-Sanomat and in IS Tv magazine since 2010 as a part-time journalist and film critic. Beside criticism I have done other journalistic work as well, for example news stories, interviews and columns, as well as TV programs for Turku TV.


You started your work career in Ilkka newspaper. Are you from Ostrobothnia?
Yes, from Seinäjoki. My mother's family is from Kuortane.

When and how did you become a Bond fan?
My Bond enthusiasm started when I was about 10 years old. I didn't have a video player at that time, but my uncle had a girlfriend - who is his wife nowadays - and her relative kinsman had videos, which we were able to borrow every now and then and in that way we saw movies that were recorded from television or we were able to rent and watch films. This was in mid-1980's, when I was in third grade in elementary school. First Bond movies that I saw were "You Only Live Twice" (1967) and "The Spy Who Loved Me" (1977). After that I started to read also Bond books, because I didn't have the chance to watch all Bond movies. Later I got more Bond movies to watch from the kinsman and when I got my own video player, the Bond movies were the first to rent and later I bought them. 

So you have read some of the Bond books. Which one is your favourite?
At primary and secondary schools, I read all of Ian Fleming´s and John Gardner's books. I haven't read Raymond Benson's books yet, but they started to appear the late 1990s. But however I have read Kingsley Amis´s study "The James Bond Dossier" (1965) (A critical analysis of the Bond books) and almost everything else, what was written of Bond at that time. I remember "Goldfinger" (1959) best, and it is probably the first or one of the first Bond books that I've read. It just opened up an amazing world! James Bond books that have appeared in recent years, I have not had time to read yet, but their time will come!

The best Bond movie and why? 
"GoldenEye" (1995) and "Casino Royale" (2006). It is really difficult to decide which one of them will go ahead. Both defined again what Bond could be, movies pointed out the specific features of an agent's work, and broadened the Bond image. They are also the first Bond movies of their male leading actors. Both movies are directed by Martin Campbell. There is a good balance of speed and content in these films.

As a film critic, how do you see the Bond films compared to the other films? 
Of course, I like the Bond films a lot, although as a film critic, sometimes I find some parts even clumsy, I see plot holes, and sometimes even horrible people profiles. Some of the Bond movies, however, are also exceptionally well-made adventure films such as "The Living Daylights" (1987), "GoldenEye" (1995), "Casino Royale" (2006) and "Skyfall" (2012). Also, Sean Connery and Roger Moore have made interesting Bond films, although they do not always rise to corresponding level. While writing criticism I have to be honest to the weaknesses of the Bond movies, but through the eyes of a fan like me, the clumsy parts of the movies are just interesting, of course.

What do you think about George Lazenby and his only Bond movie? 
If Bond's role would be played by someone else, the film "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" (1969) would be radical. It includes Peter Hunt's electrifying direction work, and cutting rhythm and style are totally different from the previous films. Skiing sequences are amazing too. It's a pity that the movie is somehow deformed; it meanders and a story is too long. Electrifying sequences suffer from a number of not so well done sequences. You still have to admire the courage at the time, when they started to make an exceptional story about Bond who falls in love, and a new actor in a leading role. It is a bit hard to get a grip of George Lazenby: he has no charisma and as an actor he is completely non-existent.

Best James Bond actor, and why? 
It would be tempting to say Daniel Craig, because he is so good in new Bond movies. However, I have always favoured Sean Connery: he has, especially in his first films, a good balance between the agent's cruelty and cold bloodiness, and on the other hand the charm and seductiveness. Connery - as well as Craig, is able to show this contradiction, what one can imagine that secret agent's work requires.

How meaningful is the fact that Sean Connery was the first Bond? 
It means quite a lot, I think. He was able to define the role. Roger Moore also tried to imitate Connery in his first Bond films, before Moore found his own style. Was it then Moore's own thing or producer´s and director´s choice? In the beginning Moore was serious, but then found his own interpretation as a smooth gentleman. Also, Timothy Dalton and Daniel Craig owe a lot to what Connery did, even though both defined the Bond role again. Pierce Brosnan on the other hand, seemed to be moving smoothly somewhere between Sean Connery and Roger Moore. There is always something new in Bond movies in the different eras, which is significant to heroes of their time.

Your job as a film critic: Do you watch a movie only once before making the film criticism? 
A typical situation is that I look the film only once and write a criticism with an honest first-touch. In Helsinki there are two or even three press screenings, but due to practical reasons, typically you have time to watch the movie only once, before writing a criticism. I don't usually make notes during the movie, instead I try to watch the movie and enjoy it as I would in my free time. Subconsciously, of course, I'll pay more attention, for example, to the structure, plot twists, cutting and directing. As a part of a film critic's job, it is essential to give yourself a permission to enjoy movies, because that is the whole base of the work. In ideal cases, I'll start to write notes immediately after the film. The notes give you the good support when you are starting to write a criticism, because quite often you are not able to start making it immediately after the movie.

Could you tell us something about the premieres and pre-screenings? 
For years big Hollywood films have, fortunately, come to Finland for premieres actually at the same time as in the United States - sometimes a few weeks later, sometimes even as early as on Wednesday, when the U.S. premiere is on coming Friday. Sometimes Europe is a test marketing area for North America. 

Press screenings are organized by Finnish movie importers, and they agree with an American movie studio or the distributor, when the movie can be shown to film critics and movie journalists here in Finland. A typical scenario is that the film can be shown to the press in Finland as soon as it has received its first public performance in the United States, either at some festival or at some other special event. Sometimes a movie can be seen here in Finland even before the screenings in North America, but then journalists must sign an embargo, and the movie cannot be commented until after a certain date. For Bond movies, it has always been a matter of honour that the premiere is in the UK, and they are seen only after that in the rest of the world - even in Finland, they can be typically seen before America.

Photo ©:

You are interested in the Academy Awards ceremony. What's so fascinating about it? 
The Academy Awards ceremony is one of the film world´s events, that is amazing and one of the touching experiences. Of course, many times I might have a different opinion about who should get the Oscar, and movies that are candidates represent only limited part of all the movies that are made in the world every year. Nevertheless, in the Oscars you can see all that solemnity, glamour and long traditions that belong to the movie world. In those years when the gala has been organized particularly well, the waiting and filmmakers´ feelings of success and how remarkable experiences films can be at their best, can be felt during those three hours that gala lasts. The best part is, of course, when Oscars go to your own favourites. Equally essential are also recaps of the old film clips and tributes to previous filmmakers. One more exciting thing while watching the gala in Finland is that you have to watch the gala in night time, when you already are in more sensitive state of mind anyway.

Have you seen the Oscar Gala live on site?
No I haven't. It's one of those things that would be nice to experience one day.

How about traveling: your favourite travel destination and why? 
There are some cities that I enjoy immensely. One of them is New York City! I've been there twice and in this autumn (2014) I'm going again. The city's measures are so beautiful, especially in Manhattan, there you can go just so close to skyscrapers. While walking in the streets, you can see in those skyscrapers all that grandiosity and flamboyant style, the message that people wanted to give when they built them. In New York you can feel to be in the middle of new and old traditions at the same time.

007 Travelers have also visited once in New York
You can feel the energy pulsing already at the airport ... or what do you think? 
Yes, absolutely! New York is a dream come true anyway for the people who are interested in movies: there are a lot of theaters that are specialized in old films and in special screenings and the programs of those are always interesting to explore. In addition, there is the whole Broadway and off-Broadway, and all of these theater productions, where you are able to see familiar actors on stage, who are famous in Finland from movies and television. In New York there are so many opportunities to walk and experience different things and every time you feel that you don't have enough time to be there.

Almost every street corner has appeared in some movie...? 
New York is one of the most filmed cities in American movies, maybe the most filmed. I remember reading a few years ago one article about this, which was either in New York Times or in Los Angeles Times. When some city is destroyed in one of Hollywood's mega movies, it is usually New York. In this newspaper article it was mentioned that New York is most known city in United States and quite often the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about United States. Los Angeles as a city and as a whole is not at all so iconic, even though there are some iconic places such as the Hollywood sign, Beverly Hills and "star streets". In New York City, the whole Manhattan is such an iconic place, like Little Italy and Chinatown among all the normal hustle and bustle.

Are you interested in 007 locations and have you been in any, for instance in New York? 
I have not been yet. Yes, I went to Harlem, but didn't specifically go to track down Bond locations. During one of the future trips I could visit one of those as well.

007 Travelers recommend that you take a look at our 007 Locations section. (By films, and by countries) 
Well, that's great!

BOND 50 YEARS SPECIAL MAGAZINE (published 4 October 2012) 

Whose idea was to make "Bond 50 years," special magazine? 
I don't know all the possible background discussions, but info to editors came from Editor-in-chief Ulla Appelsin. Practical work was kick-started by Ulla, with help of Riika Kuuskoski, who was responsible for theme magazines at that time, and also Marienka Pakaslahti was involved. Her responsibility area was the visual look.

The example pages of the James Bond 
special magazine of Ilta-Sanomat 
(Published 4 October 2012)
How did you end up making your own sections? 
First we got an e-mail from Ulla (Appelsin), which said: "If you drink your Martini rather shaken than stirred and like beautiful women or handsome men, who like beautiful women, please contact me". There was not mentioned Bond directly in the message, but of course I guessed that something related to Bond was planned to be done. All who were interested in the subject came to meeting and the subjects were shared. For me, of course, it was natural to make magazine's movie sections. Bond car thing came a little bit later, when we got permission to use pictures of James Bond cars.

You've done an article about Bond cars to the Ilta-Sanomat's "Bond 50 years", special magazine. Are you interested in Bond cars? 
Yes, I am interested in them, even though I am not really a "car person" and I'm not interested in cars as such. My wife knows everything about cars. If there are any questions related to cars, I ask her. But Bond cars interest me for the very reason since they are Bond cars. There are certain mystique, fineness and glamour in Bond cars, which are also things that can be found in Bond films anyway.

007 Travelers is going to the "Bond in Motion" exhibition in London. Have you visited this exhibition? 
I have not been there, but it would be great to visit if only I had the time and possibility to go there.


Whose idea was the Bond photo exhibition? 
The exhibition was connected to the special magazine from the start. Ilta-Sanomat made ​​the special magazine and Nelonen - which is also part of the Sanoma Group - had bought the TV performance rights of the Bond movies . It was natural that the photo exhibition was organized in cooperation when the James Bond's 50-year film career was celebrated anyway. The exhibition was created at the same time, when magazine was in making process as well. The images in the exhibition were Bond movie film stills. We got also extra pictures from FS Film (currently SF Film Finland), which was the distributor of "Skyfall" (2012). It was great that there were pictures from every Bond adventure, and it became a reminder of long history of Bond movies.

007 Travelers had an opportunity to see part of exhibition's pictures once again in year 2014.
The original exhibition was in 2012, organized by Ilta-Sanomat and Nelonen


How popular was the exhibition? 
There is no official estimation about the amount of visitors, because it was an open exhibition and everyone who visited Sanomatalo´s lobby, were able to see the exhibition. However, quite many saw it. You could see the popularity in quite special way also: Halle Berry's bikini photo from the movie "Die Another Day" (2002) was stolen directly from the exhibition. When we commissioned a new picture of Berry, it was stolen too. In addition, one of Pierce Brosnan's pictures was stolen as well. We never caught the thieves.

Have you got any feedback of the exhibition? 
We have no information about the feedback. There was no guest book in use, like we have had in our later exhibitions in Sanomatalo.

Are there any plans to organize some other Bond related exhibition or something else? 
Not at the moment, but let's see again next year (2015) when the new Bond movie will be released.

007 Travelers asked Taneli Topelius to draw up a film criticism of a Bond movie:

My favourite movie: "GoldenEye" (1995)

James Bond has always been at his best in those movies in which he is not a hero or his character is not taken for granted.

Made in 1995, the snappy "GoldenEye" was the first Bond adventure after the collapse of the Soviet Union and end of the Cold War. This was also seen in the story which had to justify that James Bond is still needed in ever changing world.

A tight adventure, directed by Martin Campbell introduced Bond, played by Pierce Brosnan, and got deeper into the 007's personality than in previous films and made ​​the best agent of Her Majesty's secret service again a remarkable character.

In the film Bond gets a clue of arms smugglers, a criminal group operating in Russia, which may have had access to effective satellite weapon, but equally important in the film is the way in which the "GoldenEye" makes the hero more human.

Through the film Bond has to face deprecation, sarcasm or even actual disregard by allies and enemies that he meets: caustic comments about Bond are said for example by the psychologist Caroline, hired by the Secret Service, the new female boss M, a technical wizard Q, cynical CIA contact Jack Wade operating in St. Petersburg, a Russian mob boss Zukovsky, and even Russian Defense Minister Mishkin and the Bond girl Natalya Simonova.

Photo © EON, United Artists, Danjaq LLC
His most powerful critic, however, is the main villain of the story, a former Secret Service agent 006, Alec Trevelyan, played by Sean Bean, with the devilish grin. Trevelyan´s sarcastic remarks of Bond's patriotism, improper loyalty and predictable strengths are more toxic and more personal than any villain´s that Bond has met before or after this movie.

Brosnan is at his best in these moments, in which he will have to receive the verbal attacks and to show that even Bond cannot answer to all of them by his apt comments. He must show by his own actions that he is still able to complete the missions - ordered to him - to save himself, London, Great Britain and the world.

Photo © EON, United Artists, Danjaq LLC
In action scenes Campbell brings out skillfully Bond´s strengths: instead of explaining, "GoldenEye" focuses on the events to display. Campbell alternates between effective action and between the moments that deepen the characters, often mixing them with each other. This is best reflected in Xenia Onatopps´ character, played by Famke Janssen. Killing and pain get Onatopp excited close to orgasm and every action scene increases her character´s personality.

Photo © EON, United Artists, Danjaq LLC
Bond girl played by Izabella Scorupco is as equal as Janssen: Determined Natalya does not hesitate to command Bond or criticize his lonely and dangerous work, and Bond on the other hand would not be able to prevent 006's plans without Natalya´s programming skills.

The grand finale emphasizes sharply ruthlessness of the secret agent´s work: The mission must be completed, even if it means killing the former best friend.

Taneli Topelius

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